Our story has progressed from where we left off last week. Jesus and the disciples left the upper room and went to the garden where Jesus was arrested while at prayer. His response to their demand for him of “I am he” proved to be enlightening to the soldiers and guards who had come to take him in, but he went along quietly in order to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose. He was taken before the Jewish leaders, roughed up and convicted of a phony charge in a joke of a trial. Peter, as Jesus had predicted, denied knowing Jesus three times, and now, early the next morning he is taken before Pilate, the ranking Roman official, for trial because only the Romans could impose capital punishment.
In vv. 28-32, the Jews approach Pilate with the request that he condemn Jesus to death. Note that Pilate doesn’t seem interested in granting them their wish. Note also the way they have approached him: First, they cannot enter the palace because they would be “unclean” and ineligible to participate in the Passover meal, so Pilate must come out to them. One might wonder what their ceremonial condition was after the role they played in putting the Son of God to death! The upshot of the exchange so far is that they need the Romans to agree to an execution, and oh by the way, Jesus had predicted the manner of his death in 3:14.
Pilate has Jesus brought to him for a few questions; one can’t help having a little sympathy for old Pilate here. Jesus, like the Jews outside isn’t all that respectful of Pilate’s predicament in his answer to Pilate’s first question about whether or not he was a king. “Is that your own idea…?” Pilate’s answer to Jesus’ question reveals that he wants nothing to do with any of this; “Am I a Jew?” The rest of his question in v. 35 is basically ‘what have you done to tick these people off?’ The answer he receives in the next verse is the crucial point of the text:
“My kingdom is not of this world.” It is from “another place.” The Jews were looking for the Messiah to bring a kingdom to the world; a worldly kingdom. It would throw the Romans out, defeat their enemies and restore the former glory of Israel, and the Jewish leaders would have tremendous power in that earthly kingdom. Jesus actually came with an entirely different kind of kingdom; a kingdom of faith and forgiveness. Forgiveness was the last thing the Jewish leaders were concerned about.
Pilate jumps on the king aspect: “You are a king then?” If Jesus were an aspiring king without the endorsement of the Roman government, then it could be asserted that he was plotting treason against Caesar. Even now, however, Pilate is troubled by this whole thing; he isn’t buying the idea that Jesus is a threat to the government. In his answer, Jesus admits to being a king, but again demonstrates that he is not an earthly king, for his reason for being born is to testify to the truth. In all likelihood, Pilate would have a hard time putting truth and kings together as treason. In fact, as we also know, kings, governments and truth are strange bedfellows. Pilate’s response to Jesus’ truth assertion shows us all we need to know about him: “What is truth?” It reveals a high level of frustration as it is one of the great unanswered questions of worldly life. Little did Pilate know, Jesus had answered this question earlier: “I am the way, the truth and the life” The answer to the great question about truth is that Jesus is the very embodiment of Truth.
Pilate goes back outside and tries again to end the standoff with the Jewish leaders, announcing that he finds no basis for any charge against Jesus. In doing this, he of course is speaking in terms of Roman law. He reminds the people that the Romans offer an annual pardon to a Jewish prisoner at the Passover, sort of a goodwill gesture. The Jews want Jesus dead and silent; they demand a man who deserves to die for the safety of the public. Their hatred of Jesus and the truth that he has brought to them from God Himself; the truth that they should be rejoicing for, is so great that they will do anything to be rid of him and by extension God. It is really a shocking and reprehensible thing they are doing, one that they will pay dearly for in the future. It is also an indication of how many will react to the truth of simple Christianity for centuries to come… as Jesus warned his disciples in the upper room.
Next time, we will pick up the story at this point as the drama continues…